Preamble: the Ramayana and Mahabharata are two mega epics of Hinduism. For those that don’t know.
I went to an uber-hep undergrad college, which was (is?) known for its literature and dramatic skillset. Although I belonged to the stodgy field of the sciences, the motley hip crowd fascinated me. I hung around (albeit not fitting in one bit) a literature major crowd, and while I was disappointed in them not being more literarily inclined than even I, I did a bit of drama-hopping with them. If I remember right, the then heart-throb was a play director called “Michael Muthu”, and his version of “Jesus Christ Super Star” and another one (perhaps by a different director) called “Joseph and the technicolor dream coat” (I think), I found fascinating in those juvenile years. I also saw some more serious, symbolic plays that seemed to have a lot of oomph factor among the hip gang that I struggled to fit in, but I never quite got them, and wondered if I was uncharitable in calling them pretentious – in my mind of course.
I have a new and interesting friend, who is a journalist. We get along well (touch wood) in a bit of an antiseptic way -we don’t venture into personal territories, but discuss books, movies, society, parenting, feminism etc. Being a journalist, she is into theatre and had asked me if I would like to join her to watch a play during The Hindu (the newspaper, not the religion) drama fest. I had agreed because, well, why not?
So last weekend, we went to a play called “Bali’ by the Adi Shakti group. It was a sort of a vaudeville (without the derogatory connotation, let me clarify) play – a “movement” based presentation, as my friend called it – attempting to provide different perspectives of the killing of Vaali (or Bali) in the Ramayana. The strength of the play was the cast; the main characters were brilliant in histrionics – the main person, in particular, could communicate through every muscle in his body. The two women artists were very expressive as well, and every twitch on their faces played – the one scene of romance between Tara and Bali (played by a woman, who faces away from the audience) was exceptional. There were interludes that I didn’t quite get, because it didn’t seem connected to the play itself, but perhaps this is a dramatic technique that I would not be aware of, having not been educated/trained in the art myself.
The death of Bali was addressed from the perspective of Sugriva, Tara, Angadha, Ravan and Ram. Of these, Angadha’s perspective was the strongest – it is logical to expect that Angadha would be furious at Ram for having killed his father, as against the original where he becomes a follower of Ram. It also makes sense that it wouldn’t matter if Ram had used righteous or underhand methods to kill Bali – all that would matter to the son would be that his father was killed. Well played.
Ravan’s perspective was cute. However, I didn’t get the betel leaf chewing discussion between Ram and Ravan. Was the betel leaf chewing a symbolism of the battle between them? Curse the uncreative mind that can’t see beyond what’s obvious. Ravan says that if Ram had allied with Bali rather than killing him, he might have released Sita at Bali’s request. When Ram asks if he really would have, Raavan answers “now we’ll never know” – touche, I think.
Sugriva’s perspective was confusing. Perhaps this was intentional because the character itself is confusing – so there is not much I can discuss.
Tara. A small digression here. A couple of weeks back, I read a book titled “The palace of illusions” — a retelling of the Mahabharatha from Panchali’s perspective. Throughout the book, I was exasperated at the narrative not being powerful enough – the ground most fertile for a feministic tirade against persistent and pervading misogyny, wasted. I had the same feeling about Tara’s perspective in the play. There was one brief moment in which Tara wails at her husband’s death, which promised the intensity of which the character is capable, but then it became less powerful – perhaps focusing too much on body language and less on the spoken language caused it. But this is a very subjective thing I believe, because my friend thought that Tara’s stance was powerful enough. I suppose my discontent is because nothing short of setting the world on fire can meet the fury in my mind at the rampant misogyny that pervades our mythology, nay life itself.
The curse of being trained in the sciences is that the brain becomes tuned to terseness and anything not expressed succinctly, takes on the garb of clutter/pretension. Although I enjoyed the 50 minute play, I couldn’t help get impatient at the amount of theatrics that surrounded a comparatively meagre idea. Perhaps watching more plays would make me less impatient with fluff.
In all, an enjoyable evening.